7 Truths of a Real Blended Family
And we have a houseful.
To be honest, summer is probably our favorite time of year. We love having all the kids under one roof for an extended period of time. And it’s always kind of a bummer when school starts back up, and along with it, the routine of early mornings, after school band practice, ballet, karate, gymnastics, and wherever else Scott and I find ourselves driving to. But summer means long, lazy days filled with family time, pool time, and fun outings.
I have to admit we’re very blessed in the blended family department. We’ve had a few rough patches over the years, but for the most part, our lives and all the kids have melded seamlessly. But…there have been rough patches.
We’re talking seven kids, five of which are under eighteen and still live with us, plus the dynamics of Scott and I marrying and creating a new family unit that includes them. Then you have the extended family we created by combining our lives–new grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
On top of that, the kids have other parents who either remarried or decided to live with someone. Then you add existing children and new children those couples have had together. And then their new grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins on that side of the family.
It’s no wonder that kids can have a rough transition after their parents divorce. It throws their entire lives into upheaval and introduces a whole lot of new people at one time. We don’t use the word “step” in our family, but it’s important to remember that a step-parent is a grief trigger in the flesh. They’re a constant reminder that their biological parent is no longer part of the picture.
And you can imagine the confusion, bitterness, or anger from a child if they’re not dealing with a “step” parent situation at all, but live-in boyfriends/girlfriends that could revolve in and out of their lives. Kids have no control over their parents choices. What they want and need are boundaries and stability.
If you’re a blended family, please don’t get discouraged if your children (or you and your spouse) are having a difficult time adjusting. Like all great things, it takes time, care, and attention.
“No, Christian brothers, I do not have that life yet. But I do one thing. I forget everything that is behind me and look forward to that which is ahead of me. My eyes are on the crown. I want to win the race and get the crown of God’s call from heaven through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14
If you’re divorced and thinking of remarriage and blending your families, I want to give you some honest tips.
It’s going to be really important to set your priorities in front of your children from the beginning. God has to come first. Your marriage has to come second. Your kids come third. Children are great at seeing our weak points. If they see chinks in the armor of your marriage they’re going to play you against each other. It’s important for them to know that the two of you stand together in all things.
It’s really easy to get into the habit of putting the kids first. Scott and I were going through old pictures in the garage the other day and we each came across pictures of our children right after our divorces. You can see the sadness and devastation in their eyes, and they’re not easy pictures to look at.
When you see that look in their eyes you want to give them whatever you can to make it go away. And it’s a completely different dynamic when a new parent comes into the mix. I can tell you from experience this was one of the most challenging things for me, but I also knew it was a necessity.
Our youngest son Graham had barely turned four the first time he and Scott met. He’d been through a lot for a four-year old. He’d lost my father, whom he was very close to, less than a year before. And his dad was no longer an every day fixture in his life. And then there was Scott, very alpha and intimidating in his police uniform.
I knew it was absolutely essential for the kids to know that Scott would be the head of our household (we weren’t married at that point). Graham was still just a baby at four, and he wasn’t used to a man like Scott.
He cried all the time (Graham, not Scott), and he was sick to his stomach with worry at times. There were times Scott disciplined when I would’ve hugged and coddled, and it was SO HARD not to interfere in the role Scott was building with the kids. And there were times when I saw my baby crying while Scott was establishing his role as head of the household and had to leave the room so I could go cry myself.
It was hard. I mean, really hard.
But I stuck it out and never interfered. I stood by Scott’s decisions, and I let the kids know that we were a team and they couldn’t circumvent him by coming to me for a different outcome. Fast forward several years down the road, and it’s paid off. Scott and Graham are two peas in a pod. They’re very close, and all of the kids know that he and I are a team.
There are going to be some. Marriage is a big deal. But maybe your kids don’t thing so. Or maybe your family doesn’t think so. Maybe the ideal picture of The Brady Bunch running through your head isn’t what reality is like when you get home from your honeymoon. This is the second or third time around after all, right?
Second marriages CAN succeed by God’s grace, work, and commitment to each other. It’s much harder, but we serve an awesome God who loves us, no matter what we’ve done in the past, and who forgives us, as long as we come to Him and confess and ask for it.
The honeymoon comes at the end of a second marriage. Especially if you’ve got full custody of your children. Put in the work at the beginning and reap the awards when they’re adults. Giving them stability and space to get used to new family dynamics is important.
And as a side note…
When talking about putting the work in at the beginning of your marriage, it’s also essential to make sure you and your spouse have alone time at regular intervals so you can connect. But there’s only so much alone time you can finagle. That’s just parenting life, and it goes with the territory. You’ll be empty-nesters soon enough.
3.) Don’t Compare
Don’t compare your new marriage, family, life etc. to the one you had before. It’s new territory. It’s not a first marriage/first family situation. Don’t treat it like one. And don’t let your family do it. How many times in your marriage have you heard a family member say, “Well, when he was married to (fill in the blank)…”
You’ve both got a past and it’s important you’re honest and upfront about it. And that you’re receptive if your spouse needs to talk about it whenever triggers or issues come up. This goes whether you’re a widow/widower or have been divorced. Issues are going to come up. But communication is the key. Not comparison.
4.) The Other Parent
Don’t talk about the other parent in front of your kids. Loyalties run thick with children to their biological parent. It doesn’t matter what the other parent did in the past…if they walked out, if they were unfaithful, if they were a deadbeat…whatever their issues.
Your child deserves to not have to worry about grownup issues. That other person is still their parent and your children love them, even if you don’t.
And look…there are probably going to be issues come up with the other parent, and you and your spouse are going to have to discuss it. Don’t do it in front of the kids.
5.) The Ex
Speaking of the other parent…this can sometimes be more challenging that blending your family. If you have a great relationship with your ex and schedules and lives work smoothly, cherish it. Sometimes it takes years to reach this point. That’s cool. Everyone is feeling their way in new territory.
The reality is you and your spouse each have an ex to deal with. And chances are probably high that at least one of them uses up a lot of your time and energy with drama.
Here’s the deal with exes–Yes, that other person is the child’s parent. But…your spouse and your family that you’re blending together are the priority. You’ve got to have boundaries. Drama from the past and drama from whatever is going on in the ex’s life has nothing to do with you or your family. And if they’re in a relationship too, it’s even less your drama.
There are situations where you’ll have an ex texting you the problems in their new relationship, problems with their new love interest’s kids, problems with their finances, problems with work, or problems with wanting more child support. Don’t let this become an acceptable practice.
Other than co-parenting a child, this is no longer your life, and anything that doesn’t have to do with the child is just them gossiping to you, and potentially “sowing discord” within your new marriage and family.
“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” Proverbs 6:16-19
If the ex is having these kinds of issues, they should be confiding in their new spouse or partner, and you need to put down boundaries so they know it’s not acceptable behavior.
Let me stress how important boundaries are. You might not think they’re that important, especially if you’ve been putting up with certain behaviors while you were single. But boundaries are going to be essential to your spouse. Boundaries give reassurance. They also create intimacy.
When you don’t have boundaries, the ex can easily sow discord. It makes your spouse worry and wonder why you’re afraid to take a stand for your marriage, and if the past is really in the past. Unfortunately, there are exes out there that will do everything they can to find cracks in your new marriage and sabotage it. Put down the boundaries early on so this doesn’t happen. Stand together. Stand firm. You’d be surprised how many emails I get from women whose husband’s ex-wives are wreaking havoc in their marriage.
If you’re the spouse with the difficult ex, make sure you’re including your new spouse in on everything that’s going on. Keeping secrets when dealing with a former relationship is just going to bring up worry, doubt, and trust issues. Being up front from the beginning can eliminate these problems.
If you’re the spouse who is watching your husband/wife deal with a difficult ex, be patient and remember the two of you are a team. It’s sometimes difficult to imagine that your husband/wife could’ve picked both you and the ex from the same planet, especially if the ex is really difficult or drama-prone.
It’s very easy to let satan wedge his way in by using that ex to cause problems in your marriage. Remember, satan hates marriage. He’ll do whatever he can to destroy it. The two of you have to do what’s best for your marriage and your family. The ex is an adult. They can handle their own problems, choices, and drama without dragging you down the rabbit hole.
Scott wrote a great blog post on The Toxic Ex-Spouse you can check out.
Outside of having a set schedule, the only way that you can allow their drama to enter your life is if you let them. This is why it’s extremely important to have legal custody decrees and everything in writing. Hot button topics such as more child support are easily dictated by each state with a formula based on income. Even if you get along great with an ex, I still recommend having set terms in writing and filed with the court. There could be a day when the ex isn’t so friendly and it’s a lot harder to negotiate terms at that point. Protect yourself and your family.
6.) Schedules get crazy!
This we know from experience. When Scott and I got married I had four kids and he had three. Now we have seven. Five of which live under roof since they’re minors. There are days when Scott and I are crazy outnumbered. We really have to communicate and have good calendars to make sure everyone gets everywhere they’re supposed to be. It’s challenging and insane. But we have fun doing it, and I think we’ve got it down to a pretty good science.
At least until school starts again and we have to remember what we were doing.
And look, I’ll be honest, if WE can make schedules work, anyone can make schedules work. Because of book deadlines, speaking engagements, book signings, and our publishing company, my husband and I work an insane amount of hours a week (usually in the middle of the night while the kids are sleeping), and we travel around 100 days of the year (for work).
We schedule all of it around the kids’ custody schedules, though sometimes we do have to make adjustments to the schedule with the other parents. But it works. Because we put in the time to make it work. You can do it! I promise!
We took our very first trip this year without laptops for an actual vacation and we both survived!
7.) You Will Love Your Spouse’s Children
It’s hard to imagine loving any children like you love your own. But it will happen. If you’re putting your priorities in the right order (God, marriage, children), it will happen. You’ll worry about their futures, you’ll hug them when they’re hurt or just need a snuggle, you’ll hold them to the same expectations as your biological children, and you’ll also discipline them the same way. It might not happen overnight, but it will happen.
“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.” Psalm 127:3-5
We all make mistakes as parents. But if Christ is the center of your marriage, and you and your spouse make your marriage a priority, your children are going to benefit. Even with divorce in your past, it’s possible to start building a Godly legacy by the blending of your families.